Geographic feature

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Geographic features, or geographical formations, are components of a planet that can be referred to as locations, sites, areas, or regions (and therefore may show up on maps). There are natural geographic features, abstract geographic features, and on Earth there are also artificial geographic features. Natural geographic features include landforms and ecosystems. Landforms are terrain types and bodies of water. Ecosystems are natural units consisting of all plants, animals and micro-organisms (biotic factors) in an area functioning together with all of the non-living physical (abiotic) factors of the environment.[1] Ecosystems come in many types and sizes, including ecozones, biomes (natural habitats such as tundra and forests), ecoregions, and many others. Abstract geographic features include politically designated areas and cartographic features (such as the Equator). Artificial geographic features include settlements and engineered constructs (such as dams, highways, and bridges).

Natural geographic features


"Any unit that includes all of the organisms (i.e., the "community") in a given area interacting with the physical environment so that a flow of energy leads to clearly defined trophic structure, biotic diversity, and material cycles (ie: exchange of materials between living and nonliving parts) within the system is an ecosystem."[2] Living organisms are continually engaged in a set of relationships with every other element constituting the environment in which they exist, and "ecosystem" describes any situation where there is relationship between organisms and their environment. What makes them geographical features is that they are locations (areas).

Types and sizes of ecosystems
Biotic Abiotic
ecozone biome floral kingdom
ecoprovince floral province geoprovince
ecoregion bioregion floral region physioregion georegion pedoregion
ecotope biotope‡ zootope‡ phytotope‡ physiotope geotope‡ pedotope
ecoelement bioelement geoelement
Sources: ‡ These words are all loanwords from German science.


A biome is a climatically and geographically defined area of ecologically similar communities of plants, animals, and soil organisms, often referred to as ecosystems.[3] Biomes are defined based on factors such as plant structures (such as trees, shrubs, and grasses), leaf types (such as broadleaf and needleleaf), plant spacing (forest, woodland, savanna), and climate. Unlike ecozones, biomes are not defined by genetic, taxonomic, or historical similarities. Biomes are often identified with particular patterns of ecological succession and climax vegetation.


A landform comprises a geomorphological unit, and is largely defined by its surface form and location in the landscape, as part of the terrain, and as such, is typically an element of topography. Landforms are categorized by features such as elevation, slope, orientation, stratification, rock exposure, and soil type. They include berms, mounds, hills, cliffs, valleys, rivers and numerous other elements.[4] Oceans and continents are the highest-order landforms.

Bodies of water

A body of water is any significant accumulation of water, usually covering the Earth. The term body of water most often refers to large accumulations of water, such as oceans, seas, and lakes, but it may also include smaller pools of water such as ponds, puddles or wetlands. Rivers, streams, canals, and other geographical features where water moves from one place to another are not always considered "bodies" of water, but are included here as geographical formations featuring water.

Artificial geographic features

Artificial geographic features are physical man-made constructs. Some examples include Tokyo, the Great Wall of China, the Suez Canal, Interstate 5, and the Boeing Everett Factory.


A settlement is a permanent or temporary community in which people live. A settlement can range in size from a small number of dwellings grouped together to the largest of cities with surrounding urbanized areas. The medieval settlement research group (a British organisation)[5] includes as part of a settlement, associated features such as roads, enclosures, field systems, boundary banks and ditches, ponds, parks and woods, mills, manor houses, moats and churches.

Engineered constructs

Engineered geographic features such as highways, bridges, airports, railroads, buildings, dams, and reservoirs, which are part of the anthroposphere because they are man-made, are artificial geographic features.

Politically-defined areas

Politically defined areas include political and administrative divisions.

Abstract geographic features

Abstract geographic features are those that don't exist physically in the real world, yet have a location by definition and may be displayed on maps. Politically defined areas such as political divisions (countries) and administrative divisions (states, provinces, counties, municipalities, etc.) are examples - their borders are set by humans and may not appear on the land itself. Cartographic geographic features are another type of abstract geographical feature - they appear on maps but not on the planet itself, even though they are located on the planet. For example, you can see the Equator on maps, but if you were actually standing on the Equator you wouldn't be able to see it, because it is an entirely theoretical line used for reference, navigation, and measurement.

Politically-designated areas

Areas with political boundaries are abstract in that their borders are not always visible in the terrain, and not identifiable as borders just by what they look like. For example, a river is a river because it is a flow of water. A border doesn't have any specific visual characteristics - it's a border because it designates a territory. Usually there is no line drawn on the ground to show the border between two states, though sometimes there is a wall or a fence, or even a minefield. Borders are often only drawn on maps.

Cartographical features

Cartographic features of Earth are theoretical constructs used specifically on maps that don't have any physical form apart from their location. Examples include latitude lines (such as the Equator), longitude lines (such as the Prime Meridian), and the Earth's poles.

See also


  1. Christopherson, Robert W. (1997) (in english). Geosystems: An Introduction to Physical Geography (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ, USA: Prentice Hall Inc.. ISBN 0-13-505314-5. 
  2. Odum EP (1971) Fundamentals of ecology, third edition Saunders New York
  3. >The World's Biomes, Retrieved August 31, 2010, from University of California Museum of Paleontology
  4. Glossary Of Landform and Geologic Terms, in National Soil Survey Handbook, Part 629.02(c), United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resouces Conservation Service
  5. MSRG